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Dilruba Or Esraj

The esraj (also called israj or dilruba) is a string instrument found in two forms throughout the north, central, and east regions of India. It is a young instrument by Indian terms, being only about 200 years old. The dilruba is found in the north, where it is used in religious music and light classical songs in the urban areas. The esraj is found in the east and central areas, particularly Bengal, as well as Bangladesh. It is used in a somewhat wider variety of musical styles than is the dilruba.

The structure of both instruments is very similar, both having a medium sized sitar-like neck with 20 heavy metal frets. This neck holds on a long wooden rack of 12-15 sympathetic strings while the dilruba has more sympathetic strings and a differently shaped body than the esraj. They both have four main strings which are bowed. All strings are metal. The soundboard is a stretched piece of goatskin similar to what is found on a sarangi. Sometimes the instrument has a gourd affixed to the top for balance.

The instrument can be rested between the knees while the player kneels, or more commonly rested on the knee of the player while sitting, with the neck leaning on the left shoulder. It is played with a bow, using the other hand to press the strings between the frets. The player may slide the note up or down to achieve the portamento, or sustained vibrations, characteristic of Indian music.

A. R. Rahman has been one of the composers in India who has used the Dilruba in his works like "Dil Se" and "Vande Mataram".

The esraj is mostly used as an accompanying instrument. It is the accompanying instrument of choice for Rabindra Sangeet singing. However, it has also been used as a solo instrument to interpret Hindustani Classical Music, mostly in the Vishnupur tradition.

Unfortunately, the popularity of the esraj has been steadily declining. Its image as primarily an accompanying instrument has done little to attract new talent.

The most famous exponent of the esraj has been Pandit Ranadhir Ray, who died in 1988. Ranadhir Ray was a student of Ashesh Bandopadhyay, and was on the faculty at the Music department of Viswabharati University in Santiniketan. Today, the best known exponent is Buddhadeb Das, also from Santiniketan.